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September 19, 2019 / Congau

Undeserved Punishment

Does anyone deserve to be punished? Someone does something bad, something very bad, and therefore it is just that something bad happens to him. Is it?

Well, maybe, but how are we to tell what the proper measure of punishment would be? Someone kills; should he then himself be killed? Should he spend a number of years in prison? How many? What is the right amount?

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That seems fair, doesn’t it? What you take, should be taken away from you. But what good does that do to anyone? If you steal a dollar, you can pay a dollar back and the world is again in balance, but a lost eye will not restore another eye. This one to one retribution is therefore rarely a legal principle.

What other principle could then secure fairness? There isn’t any. No such principle could possibly exist. A punishment can never match a crime, for the two are incompatible categories.

Still we have the feeling that when something bad happens to someone who has done something bad, he got what he deserved. But haven’t we all done bad things? Don’t we all deserve what is bad as well as what is good? What is the right measure?

The universe doesn’t distribute justice. Life is not fair. There is more suffering in the world than we could possibly deserve. Why do we think we have to add to that suffering by inflicting punishment? What right do men have to play gods?

But what would happened to society if we didn’t? Wouldn’t crime rise if the criminal didn’t have anything to lose? Yes, there is that risk, and that is the only reason why we have to punish.

If anyone deserves to be punished, it’s not for us say. We shouldn’t punish then, but there may be no other way.

Be glad you are not a judge, and if you are, punish with a heavy heart.

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